If you want to know the best places to visit in Quebec City, just ask internationally acclaimed Canadian composer and pianist Steve Barakatt.
The award-winning musician, who counts Quebec City as both his hometown and current place of residence, frequently looks to the destination as a source of inspiration for his works, including “Autumn in Quebec (The Landscape)” and the dreamy music video that accompanies it.
He has even written the official anthems for the National Order of Quebec and Fairmont Le Château Frontenac—Quebec City’s most iconic hotel.
“Quebec City has always been part of my stories,” said Barakatt, who serves as Quebec City Cultural Ambassador. “Being in Quebec City is a state of mind. There’s a rhythm to the city and it talks to you.”
To help travelers experience the magic of French-speaking Canada’s capital, I asked Barakatt to share a few of the places he loves most in the destination. Here’s his insider’s guide to Quebec City, including top attractions and where to stay.
It should come as no surprise that Old Quebec tops Barakatt’s list of the best places to visit in Quebec City. The only fortified city north of Mexico, Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that immerses travelers in 400 years of history.
“It’s unique in terms of architecture,” he said. “You feel like you’re in the heart of something that has meaning.”
While you’re time traveling Quebec City, be sure to explore Petit Champlain, said Barakatt. The postcard-perfect street is North America’s oldest commercial district and makes for a romantic stroll.
To make the most of your visit to Quebec City, go beyond the city limits and head to Ile d’Orléans, said Barakatt. Located just a short drive from the city, this bucolic island has six tiny villages steeped in French Canadian heritage.
“The French came here and planted grapes and vineyards. Now Ile d’Orléans is a hub for agriculture, and the area is just lovely in terms of architecture,” said Barakatt. “You can see old French-style houses from the 17th century, pick strawberries and apples, go wine tasting, and enjoy beautiful scenery.”
Summer is prime time on Ile d’Orléans. Most of the shops and roadside farm stands are open from mid-June to mid-October. Don’t write off a visit to the island in winter, though. That’s when you can sample fresh maple taffy from a sugar shack, try dog sledding, or go on a snowmobiling trip.
Quebec City Art and Civilization Museums
“Quebec City itself is an open-air museum,” said Barakatt. But if you’re looking to visit one of Quebec City’s top museums, the musician has two recommendations: the Le Musée de la civilisation and Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.
“The civilization museum is more contemporary, while the art museum is more classic and highlights painters from around Quebec,” he noted. “If you want to visit museums, you will be well served in Quebec City.”
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is so much more than a heritage hotel.
“It’s the face of Quebec City,” Barakatt said. “It’s one of the most iconic buildings in Canada. Every Canadian passport has this hotel pictured on it.”
You don’t have to have a reservation at the 130-year-old property to experience just how enchanting it can be. The hotel welcomes all travelers to step inside the recently renovated lobby to see 400-year-old artifacts on display.
You can also appreciate the castle-like structure from behind a viewfinder. The Château Frontenac is said to be one of the most photographed hotels in the world. Head to the Old Port or the Citadelle de Quebec for picture-perfect views of the hotel.
For his part, Barakatt celebrated the hotel’s 125th anniversary by composing the Château Frontenac’s official anthem.
“I personally got engaged there—it’s why I was interested in all the stories of the people who found the Château Frontenac changed their life when I was writing the anthem,” said Barakatt. “It’s a very important place for Québécois and all Canadians, as well.”
Parc du Cavalier-du-Moulin
Looking for a green oasis where you can kick back and relax after a morning of sightseeing in Quebec City? Barakatt has a recommendation for exactly where to go: Parc du Cavalier-du-Moulin.
Named after a windmill that once stood on the site, the peaceful city park offers fantastic views of historic buildings and is the only remaining portion of the first fortifications built by the French in the 1600s (hence the cannons).
“It’s the most inspiring place to hang out, smoke a cigar, and read a book,” said Barakatt.
Restaurant La Bûche
Sampling Québécoise cuisine is essential on a trip to Quebec City, and Barakatt said there are a few better places to try the local fare than La Bûche.
“We are very into sugar shacks in Quebec. The ambience at La Buche is like an urban sugar shack,” he said. “The servers are dressed up in the traditional ways you would dress to go to a sugar shack. They combine maple syrup with salty food and offer traditional poutine.”
Le Clan is another Quebec City restaurant that should be on travelers’ radars, according to Barakatt.
Helmed by owner and chef Stéphane Modat, the 100-seat restaurant takes guests “on a journey through gourmet Quebec” and even pinpoints the geographic coordinates of the source of key ingredients right on the menu.
“Modat is doing something very special. He meets the people who produce the ingredients and organizes a complete chain of events from the producer to the plate,” explained Barakatt. “It’s a spiritually driven place.”
Quebec City isn’t just historical—it also has a trendy side, as well. Experience it for yourself by visiting the neighborhood of Saint-Sauveur.
“It was where I was raised, but it has changed so much,” he said. “It has become one of the most interesting places to be at the moment.”
On a recent visit, he was wowed by the number of boutique hotels, trendy restaurants, and new venues that have popped up in this once working class neighborhood.
“All the foodies come and have fun and listen to DJs—it’s all happening here,” Barkatt said. “You can see a different kind of crowd and have a more underground, hip experience.”